Looters and Ethics
by Paul Barford
In Washington today, at a CPAC hearing, Washington cultural property lawyer cited official figures suggesting that there were "up to 250 000 looters" in Bulgaria, the actual reference was not given, but this seems to refer to a passage on page 179 of the report Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends (Center for Study of Democracy 2007): "Estimates about active looters range between 100,000 to 250,000. Despite the striking figure most of these people are either amateur treasure hunters, or incidental finders. The professionals among them do not exceed several thousands". This indicates that incidental finders and metal detectorists who are not reporting material to the authorities are considered "looters" by the standards of EU member-country Bulgaria, an opinion - it now seems - endorsed by Peter Tompa
I cannot speak for Peter Tompa nor for the ACCG. I only have authority to definitively and officially speak for myself. In that restricted capacity I now desire to make it clear that I am absolutely in agreement with what Paul Barford has thus far said, upon this particular report, regarding looters and those who should be classified as looters. No one should presume to assume that such agreement will automatically extend beyond the boundaries of this particular post -- but for the moment we are in complete, total agreement.
I believe it is appropriate for me to say a few words regarding how I think of looters. In my view looters are the absolute irredeemable nadir of human society. They are worse than scum, for as I understand ecology, scum actually provides a very useful ecological function in recycling surplus nutrients.
I intensely, and unreservedly hate looters. No archaeologist or archaeoblogger could possibly exceed that hatred. I would gladly labor in the mephitic dungeons of Hades, where looters in an ideal world and its hereafter might be subjected to well deserved and excruciating torments proportional to their offenses against society. Every red hot iron drawn along the ribcage of a looter, every excruciating session of the bastinado, every episode of being immersed in boiling oil, in such an ideal world would be merely the inconsequential prelude (and a very mild one at that), to what looters really deserve. Which, in my view, would be an eternity in Hell during which they would experience the ultimate in human, angelic and divine cruelty, without any respite or intermission to solace their well-deserved torments. There they might perhaps venture to reflect upon how Torquemada and his Dominican inquisitors came to think of the transient horrors of the auto da fe as a merciful alternative, whose brief extremities might induce repentance, avoiding an eternity in Hell.
Having said that there are, in my view, definite degrees of offensiveness amongst looters. Immersion in boiling pitch, being poked into its excruciating and tormenting depths at brief intervals by the pangs of demonic pitchforks, may perhaps be the theologically just fate of those who actually venture to feloniously dig up designated archaeological sites and other sites which might be so designated, in order to illicitly obtain valuable ceramics, statuary and the like. Such miscreants undoubtedly deserve the full and unreserved wrath of society and its divine inspirations. A dilapidated tramp who conversely ventures to pick up an old stogie along the road might in a putatively very extreme interpretation of preserving cultural heritage perhaps be considered to have somehow infringed upon the archaeological or cultural heritage record. Old stogies are by definition human artifacts, they have to be rolled and then smoked to assume their characteristic forms and odors, and they do perhaps have a certain cultural relevance, anyone doubting which might benefit from consulting the works of Roger Miller. Such perhaps socially marginal individuals in my view do not really deserve the pangs of immersion in boiling oil, however they might instead benefit from immersion into hot soapy water followed by a good rinse and a thorough toweling-off, followed by consumption of a nutritious meal, which so far as I am aware has not yet been recognized as torture despite the rather decided aversion some such individuals seem to have developed toward bathing.
Intermediate between these extremes we have the putative, perhaps questionable misdeeds of metal detectorists, who to the best of my understanding do not ever bring in heavy excavating machinery such as backhoes, bulldozers and the like to dig up their perhaps illicit findings, but instead rely upon far less destructive hand tools. Suffice it to say that metal detectorists in the opinion of this observer have for the most part apparently been converted to archaeologically responsible practices in the UK, where their detecting activities tend to be closely supervised, in the first instance by their associations and clubs, and beyond that by the PAS which has done great good in educating amateur treasure-hunters, whose activities have in many respects revitalized British archaeology and have resulted in many very important new discoveries.
Getting back to Mr. Barford's relevant views, the incidental finders and metal detectorists who are not reporting discovered material to the authorities in Bulgaria, or in other nations requiring such disclosure (which is normally followed by confiscation) are considered "looters" not only by him and those who share his views, but also by me and all who share my views. So far as I am concerned they, and their socially irresponsible like can all go to hell, and the faster they arrive there, the better I will like it.
I do hope that everyone very clearly understands my own personal code of ethics which is not for the most part required by US law, but which I have independently decided to be essential to my personal standards. I will not knowingly acquire any antiquity, including ancient coins, whose exportation from the nation of discovery appears to me to be in any way suspicious, and which (in the event that the exporting nation restricts exportation of antiquities) is not accompanied by a valid export permit satisfying the requirements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.